By Sterling Pingree
It is hard to believe with confetti still seemingly falling from the Houston sky that even in the afterglow of a Lombardi trophy that the Patriots are going to have to make some tough decisions very soon. No days off. We are a little over 2 weeks away from the start of the new NFL league year, which kicks off the start of free agency. I’ve broken all of the Patriots free agents into 3 groups, last week I tabbed my returners and next week I will pack the bags for those I’ll call the “No Chance in Hell” group. This week’s grouping though could go either way and Martellus Bennett said it best, “Super Bowl Champions get paid” and this group certainly do that or they could stay in Foxboro if: The Price is Right! Cue the music and please Rod Roddy send down our first contestant!
WR- Michael Floyd- What a year Michael Floyd had in 2016. He got an extreme DUI and was released by the Cardinals. (Extreme DUI makes it sound like he got pulled over for drunk driving his Range Rover out of an air plane.) New England picked him up and his time as a Patriot could be best described as feast or famine. He looked like an animal in Miami, carrying 4 or 5 Dolphins into the end zone on a touchdown and springing a Julian Edelman touch down with a savage block down field. Two weeks later however against Houston, he sealed his post season fate by not completing a pattern that led directly to a Brady interception. He never saw the field again in the postseason.
Why Floyd could leave: Money. This will be a common reason why most of the guys in this group will leave. If they want to get paid, it’ll happen elsewhere. Floyd has been a durable and mostly dependable receiver in his career though his numbers while consistent will never jump out at you. At 6’3 and 220lbs Floyd represents a bigger receiver than those we generally see featured in McDaniels’ offense and with the Patriots patina on him that could make his past indiscretions less of a concern for other teams. He will serve 120 days for the extreme DUI, though only 24 days in jail, the other 96 he will have to sit in the corner of his probably very spacious home and I don’t believe he can have any dessert. With the playoff emergence of Hogan and Mitchell, plus Amendola’s willingness to set the record for consecutive years restructuring your contract to stay with your current team, I’m not sure there is a spot in this group for Floyd.
Why Floyd could stay: The Patriots see value in Floyd. In the two regular season games that he played, he was used as a bigger version of Malcolm Mitchell, which could be enticing for the Patriots. The Notre Dame alum plays physically, and is something that the Patriots haven’t had much of and could open things up down field. At 27 years old Floyd should have something left in the tank and that physicality could be an added dimension for the Patriots offense.
DT- Alan Branch- Branch has been an unsung hero for the Patriots the last 3 seasons. His first year as a Patriot was Vince Wilfork’s last and one could say that it was Branch’s emergence during the second half of the 2014 season that allowed Belichick to make the difficult decision to let Wilfork walk. Branch had a big game in Super Bowl 51, constantly pushing the pocket while over matching Falcons center Alex Mack and coming up with the ball on Dont’a Hightower’s game changing strip sack of Matt Ryan.
Why Branch could leave: He was a big piece of the Patriots defense and is available. Those two qualifications will put you on most team’s radars. The Michigan alum is entering his 11th year in the league, which for a defensive lineman is very impressive, especially for a guy listed at 6’6 and 324lbs. This could be his last chance to sign a 2 or 3 year contract for good money and few could blame him for taking one more big pay day. Branch was suspended four games for a positive drug test and even though his suspension was overturned and anything drug related on your resume can spell the end of your tenure in New England. Just ask Chandler Jones.
Why Branch could stay: The Patriots have had choices to make in terms of run stuffers over the past 3 seasons and each time have chosen Branch. I mentioned that his performance in 2014 made Wilfork expendable, he beat out Sealver Siliga last year and this year in training camp ripped a roster spot away from Pot Roast Knighton. I think Branch could be a priority for the Patriots this off season, almost to the same extent that Hightower is but here is the big difference: Bill Belichick could walk into a vegan farmer’s market and find an above average nose tackle. If Branch takes the money, the Patriots would survive either via the draft or another veteran run stuffer on a one year deal.
DE- Chris Long- Long came to New England last off season because he wanted to win. Long was the number 2 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and was an iron man his first 6 years in the league, never missing a game and placing among the league leaders in sacks 5 times. The last two years were riddled with injuries on bad St. Louis teams. This year, Long played all 16 games for the Patriots and was exactly the kind of player they hoped that they were signing when they inked him to a one year showcase type contract.
Why Long could leave: Chris Long wanted to win and he won. He’s got his ring and now that the last things that teams saw from him was playing a 19 game season and drawing holding penalties in the Super Bowl, there is going to be a broader market for the tattooed son of Howie.
Why Long could stay: He fits Matt Patricia’s scheme and presented himself like a team captain from his first days at training camp. His team first attitude and winning mentality make him a perfect fit for the Patriot way. The Patriots also have choices to make in their front 7 this off season with Long and line mate Jabaal Sheard both on the open market. Sheard was benched this season and disappeared for most of the year. If it comes down to keeping one or the other, my money is on Long to sign a two year deal and likely finish his career in New England.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.